Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Linden's legacy

There will be better players, but possibly not a better person. And no athlete here will be able to match the enduring strength and personal nature of Linden's bond to this city and its fans, which is why his retirement announcement today will be as poignant as it is expected.
I left B.C. about five years ago, but I think I can speak to the two sides of Linden's legacy, both as a native of the province and, now, an outsider looking in.

In Vancouver, well, MacIntyre nailed it: He's Captain Canuck — far and away the most popular player in the 38-year history of the only professional team that matters in that city.

Elsewhere in the NHL? The view from Toronto?

I'm not even sure Linden will have a legacy.

A lot of that has to do with his sudden fade from view after he was dealt from Vancouver during Mike Keenan's reign of error, as Linden's offensive contributions all but evaporated at age 27. The first eight seasons of his career, he was an NHL iron man, seldom missing games and scoring 62 per cent of his goals before his 26th birthday.

He played for Canada at the world juniors in 1988, the world championship in 1991 and '98, the World Cup in '96 and, ultimately, on the ill-fated Nagano Olympics team in '98.

Linden only managed 128 goals over the 680 games after "the trade," despite the fact he returned home for good in 2001-02. The second-overall pick behind Mike Modano in 1988, he was a six-time 30-goal man early in his career and a Conn Smythe candidate during Vancouver's unlikely run to the finals in 1994, but became a defensive specialist as he lost confidence and playing time.

That transformation, however, didn't diminish him in the eyes of the Canucks faithful, and there's no question his No. 16 jersey will be retired in the coming season. It's fitting that his retirement announcement this afternoon comes exactly 20 years from the day he was drafted, because for that long, he's been the face of a franchise that had always longed for one.

Unfortunately, it's also fitting that Vancouver's hero was never one for a larger audience. Linden never won a major NHL award, played in only two all-star games and, despite skating in the 32nd most games in league history, isn't anywhere to be found in the record books.

The franchise markers are a different story. Linden's played nearly 250 more games in a Canucks uniform than the next closest player (Stan Smyl), and sits first in assists and second in both goals and points behind current captain Markus Naslund.

In an organization like the Red Wings, a team's folk heroes are honoured by being kept in the family, but there's been turmoil in Vancouver for a while now surrounding Linden and many in the market don't expect he'll be kicked upstairs. As the NHLPA's president during one of pro sports most notorious labour wars, Captain Canuck made a few enemies, one of whom is reported to be the man residing as the team's new general manager.

As hard as it is to believe, it's unlikely Linden will be what Steve Yzerman is to Hockeytown, Ron Francis is to the Hurricanes or Al MacInnis is to the Blues. At least in the near future.

MacIntyre says Scott Mellanby, named to a consultant's role last month, got "Linden's job."

If that's the case, however, it won't always be so. Regimes change — often, in a place like Vancouver — and fans will clamour for Linden till the day he goes upstairs.

He's their guy.

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At 10:29 a.m., June 11, 2008, Blogger JP said...

Not for nothing, but the dude was a beast in NHL94, which helps any player's legacy in my book.

At 11:17 a.m., June 11, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

How long did it take you to take that picture off your bedroom wall and scan it, James? j/k

Linden was a class act, through and through. I loved him as a Hab, even if he didn't produce offensively as was anticipated of him. However, you're right, James. Outside of Vancouver, his longest living legacy is from the lockout, which is a shame.

At 12:05 p.m., June 11, 2008, Blogger therealdeal said...

I appreciate that he did what he thought was right, but Linden's part in the labour shutdown really tarnished him in my eyes. In the end he fought a losing battle and was a leader in what (from the outside looking in) looked to be a fairly incompetent and corrupt NHLPA regime.

At 12:28 p.m., June 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everybody is always saying what a good guy Linden is but how do they really know?

Sean Burke is a great guy in the room but not in his living room.

I'm not suggesting anything but these good guy references with athletes and celebrities don't mean crap.

What matters is what they have done in their profession. Linden's playing career was what it was - good or great or whatever depending on opinion - and his other public career as NHLPA executive is up for opinions, too.

I would say that his NHLPA legacy is ugly. When you're part of borderline criminal shanigans, well, you're part of it.

To make it worse is that with this he didn't only give his support to Saskin but he threw his colleques under the bus. Imagine same kind of scenario in the army? Friendly fire, anyone?

At 3:17 p.m., June 11, 2008, Anonymous treved said...

First off Anon, class act hiding with no name and slinging mud. Put a name up.

Second, they know what a good guy Linden is because he is a big time philanthropist. There are hundreds of stories of him helping people in Vancouver, visiting the sick, starting foundations, etc. Check out this one, for instance:

Hell, he just won the NHL Foundation Player Award in recognition of hid commitment and service to charities in his community.

Only the latest class act was making a donation to Canuck Place at his retirement press conference.

So say what you want about what you think happened during the lockout, but the fact of Linden being a good guy and class act is not really debatable.


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